Thursday, May 01, 2014

Taipei flirts with ‘authoritarianism lite’ amid political crisis

Based on policies announced in the past week, it looks like the government intends to respond to the challenge of civil society with a major propaganda campaign backed by a strengthened security apparatus 

As the political crisis pitting civil society against the Ma Ying-jeou administration deepens, Taiwanese authorities are adopting countermeasures that, to many observers, are unfit for a democratic system and evidence that the government is getting desperate. 

More than a month after the Sunflower Movement burst into the Legislative Yuan and launched a three-week occupation that shook the nation at its foundations, it is now clear that the political environment in Taiwan will never be the same. With this unprecedented action on March 18, the movement succeeded in channeling mounting discontent with government policies and elevated a nascent civic nationalism — and a desire among young Taiwanese to fight for what they believe in — to a point of no return. As the movement’s leadership vowed in front of tens of thousands of supporters as they vacated the legislature on April 10, the occupation has ended, but the battle goes on. 

And it has. Although the trigger for the Sunflower Movement was the Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA) and the manner in which the pact had been handled since its inception, the activists were (and are still) mobilizing for something that is much more fundamental. Their focus is government accountability in all matters pertaining to public policy and, increasingly, the government’s less-than-transparent dealings with authoritarian China. The snowballing movement — or rather, the constellation of movements that has flowered over the months — now targets a variety of interconnected issues ranging from lack of government oversight to the unholy nexus of high-level officials and big business, unsafe nuclear power plants to inappropriate law enforcement decisions. 

My article, published today on the China Policy Institute Blog, University of Nottingham, continues here. (Photo by the author)

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